Beer has been around since the early Neolithic period and is often considered the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Its methodology is surprisingly simple yet hard to perfect. A starch is fermented — which can be anything from wheat to rice, but malted barley is most commonly used — and flavoured with hops and other spices.
In the United States, where the beer industry has been dominated by macrobreweries like Coors Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company since the postwar period, the craft brewery scene grew when President Jimmy Carter lifted outdated Prohibition-era regulations in 1978 and allowed for small amounts of beer to be brewed at home for personal use. This allowed for the average person to start brewing beers and experimenting with new flavour profiles.
Today, the craft brewers account for 12 percent of the market share, according to the Brewers Association, with more than 24.5 million barrels produced in 2015 and a 13 percent rise in volume over the previous year. So on your next stop to these gateway cities, schedule a detour to try the full-flavored beers at these craft breweries.
When Steve Hindy opened Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1988, the neighbourhood was a far cry from the epicenter of hip urban living it is today.
“It was a struggle,” Hindy admits. “People did not understand what we were doing. Today, people understand what craft beer is, but back then for people in Brooklyn, Budweiser was king. When people tasted our beer, they were like, ‘It’s so bitter and dark. Why don’t you make a beer like Budweiser?’”
Craft beer really wouldn’t reach its zenith in the United States until the beginning of the 21st century. However, it pays off to be one of the first craft brewers. Large by craft brewery standards, Brooklyn Brewery produces more than 200,000 barrels a year and, according to Hindy, is the biggest craft beer exporter in the world. Its always-popular Brooklyn Lager is also widely available in the U.S. Thanks to its popularity, Brooklyn Brewery is the 12th largest craft brewer in U.S. and the largest in New York State, according the Brewers Association.
The brewery, which hosts a two-hour tour Monday through Thursday with advanced reservations, has a barebones taproom featuring perennial brews like the aforementioned lager to the American Ale and Brooklyn Brown Ale. Also be on the look out for seasonal beers and the Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment, which is what happens when the beers “wander through the woods, play with fire and occasionally run with scissors.”
Like any new industry, Hindy says opening and operating a brewery in New York hasn’t always been easy.
“In the first 15 years of business, up to 2005 or so, there were about 30 [breweries] that tried to start in metro New York and they all failed. New York was a very difficult nut to crack.”
However, thanks to pioneers like Hindy toughing it out during those early years, Brooklyn Brewery paved the way for others like Threes Brewing located in the Gowanus neighbourhood of Brooklyn not too far from the Barclays Center.
Opened in a former furniture manufacturing space, Threes Brewing is much more modest in scale compared to Brooklyn, but represents the new wave of craft breweries that have flourished as beer connoisseurs roam the city looking for full-flavoured suds. The brewpub features a 24-line draught system, featuring Threes’ own brews as well as third-party pours. There’s also a fully stocked liquor bar and wine, in case you are in the mood for something else.
In the nearby Carroll Gardens neighborhood, you’ll find Other Half Brewing Company. Opened in 2014 by Samuel Richardson and Matt Monahan, the brewery has garnered plenty of national buzz, making it a must-visit for beer lovers visiting the city. Although always concocting different styles of beers — from saison to Kölsch — Other Half is best known for its hop-forward brews. There is also a taproom with a constantly-rotating list of of pours, and brewery tours are available by appointment.
If you’d think any state would be awash in beer it would be Florida. However, thanks to outdated laws that were only relaxed recently, the Sunshine State was late to the game.
Today, 151 breweries call Florida home, surpassed only by Texas and North Carolina in the Southeast region, and 11th overall in the U.S.
“When we opened up in 2009, there were only five craft breweries in the Tampa area,” says Neil Callaghan, El Lector for Cigar City Brewing. “We wouldn’t have existed without those early breweries — like Dunedin Brewery and Tampa Bay Brewing Company — but we were the first brewery to bring attention to the Tampa Bay craft beer scene.”
You don’t have to live in Florida to have heard of Cigar City Brewing. Thanks to its Jai Alai IPA and Florida Cracker Belgian-style white ale, the brewery has earned a rabid following that culminates during its annual March celebration known as Hunahpu’s Day. (The event has proven to be so popular that Cigar City doesn’t give advance notice as to when tickets go on sale, to prevent scalpers from snatching up all the tickets at once.)
Located in Northwest Tampa, Cigar City’s tasting room gives visitors a chance to try all the regular brews as well as nitro beers and special releases.
“My favourite beer is one called Cubano Espresso,” Callaghan says. “It starts off as our Maduro brown ale and we add chocolate, coffee and vanilla to it. It’s got everything I love in a big, heavy stout, but it’s a low-alcohol, easy-drinking, approachable brown ale.”
On the edge of Tampa’s historic neighbourhood of Ybor City, Coppertail Brewing Co. is brewing meticulous and clean beers, standing out from the pack of more than 60 breweries that call the area home.
When asked about his favourite pour, Coppertail’s marketing director Gary Kost doesn’t hesitate with his answer. “Free Dive IPA — it’s our core beer and best seller. I love IPAs, and this one is right up my alley. Hoppy and finishes dry. It’s 5.9 percent alcohol by volume, and you can drink it all day.”
Coppertail’s taproom features its core four beers — the Free Dive IPA, Unholy Trippel, Night Swim Porter and Wheat Stroke Pale Wheat Ale — along with featured pours and guest taps. Tours are available Thursday through Sunday for $7.
The Midwest has long been the epicenter of the American macrobrewing industry. However, plenty of craft breweries saw an opportunity to bring more variety to the market.
“They have their fans that we are trying to convert to our way of life,” says Brant Dubovick, head brewer for DryHop Brewers and Corridor Brewery and Provisions. “However, as a brewer I appreciate what they are able to do. Macrobrewers are amazingly smart and talented individuals. The ability to have your product taste the same every single time is genius. I say that with all sincerity.”
Perhaps it’s the Midwest’s long history with beers that has led it to be a leader in the craft brewing industry. While the East Coast has only recently started to wise-up to full-flavoured beers, cities like Chicago have long been home to micro and regional breweries.
“Chicago always had great craft beer,” Dubovick says. “The problem was that most of it was not from Chicago. That’s not a problem anymore thanks to Goose Island, Piece [and] Rock Bottom paving the way.”
DryHop and its American pub vibe serves mostly hop-centric beers whilst its sister brewery, Corridor, gives way to more European-style pours. Both host weekly events regularly and on Mondays offer the Barman’s Banquet special: burger, pint and bourbon shot for $15. There aren’t any regularly scheduled tours, but Dubovick says team members are willing to show patrons around if they ask, and groups can email in advance to schedule one.
Over at Revolution Brewing’s brewpub in Logan Square, patrons can enjoy local music whilst sipping on core beers, seasonals and one-offs. There’s also a full menu and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. However, if you are looking for the brewery, you’ll have to venture a mile and a half away to the Avondale neighbourhood. Here, Revolution offers a straight-up taproom and offers complimentary tours of its 90,000-square-foot facility from Wednesday to Sunday. The first-come, first-serve tours are capped at 30 people and fill up quickly on the weekends, so get there early.
So whenever you are ready to graduate to more full-flavoured and experimental types of beers, craft breweries are there to provide more than just watered-down pilsners.
Visit These destinations with Cayman Airways
Cayman Airways offers non-stop flights from Grand Cayman to each of these craft beer gateways. To book your flight, call 345-949-2311 or 1-800-4-CAYMAN, contact your local agent, or visit caymanairways.com.
Author: Daniel Guzman